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A Treatise on Wood Engraving, Historical and Practical. With upwards of three hundred Illustrations, engraved on wood. By John Jackson, Royal 8vo. pp. 750.
THERE is nothing more extraordinary in the history of civilization than the neglect and loss of beautiful arts, even in times of much refinement and intelligence. It would seem as if every thing connected with this perishable world should of necessity be subject to decay and mortality; and that our arts, as well as our political institutions, should "have diseases like to men," and incur "the like death that we have." Thus it has been with pointed architecture, with glass-staining, and with wood-engraving. It is thought that the skill of the old practitioners in the second of these arts, which was once nearly, if not entirely lost, has latterly been recovered; and the usual mode of expression, when this subject is now mentioned, is to this effect: "It is an error to suppose that the art of staining in glass is lost; for, &c. &c." With regard to pointed architecture, the studies of our modern architects may be thought to have nearly, if not entirely renewed the skill of former times; and the restorations effected at York, Ripon, and Peterborough, the erections at Ashridge, Fonthill, and Toddington (at Fonthill how short-lived!), appear to support such a position; but the want of resources in funds and in labour approaching to those possessed by the Church in former ages, seems effectually to prevent the perfect revival of this art. Whether the new senate house at Westminster will answer the expectations of the admirers of the pointed style, remains to be seen; but we dread, as we would deprecate, that the original designs will be much denuded of their ornamental portious.
The art of Wood-engraving is another which in modern times has been revived, or rather born anew, after being virtually extinct. Originating in Germany, where it was the precursor, and probably the parent, of the more valuable and now all-important art of printing, it spread over Europe, and continued to flourish, in conjunction with typography, for more than two centuries. At length it went out of fashion (for that seems the only explanation to be given of the fact), and all figures and embellishments in books were executed on copper-plates. After having been practised in England, with considerable success, in the early part of the seventeenth century, so entirely was it decayed in the reign of Charles the Second, that the preface of Sir William Dugdale's Baronage, published in 1675, contains the following remarkable passage, which, as an addition of some importance to a history of wood engraving, we are glad it has occurred to us to refer to :
"such hath been the disuse of this age for cutting of Prints in Wood; by reason, that those in Copper are more beautiful; that the Art of Carving in that kind is now so lost, as there is little done therein, but what would rather blemish the Work, than adorn it. And as to Cuts
in Copper, it is very well known, that there can be no use of them made by that Press, which Printeth the Book; but another, through which, by a chargable expence, every single Escutcheon is to pass."
This "chargable expence," of printing vignettes, was incurred by Sir William Dugdale for his History of Warwickshire, and for his Origines Juridiciales; but the Baronage, for the reasons above given, is without any representations of the arms of the families recorded. Even for his copper-plate vignettes, Dugdale chiefly employed a foreigner, Wenceslaus Hollar; as, fifty years after, Tom Hearne, at Oxford, had all his "Ectypa" engraved on copper, generally by Michael Burghers. In Collins's Peerage of 1710, there are wood-cuts of the arms, but they are as rude as they could have been if attempted in Dugdale's time. In short, the art was "lost." During the greater part of the last century, it was little practised; though it still had its chain of professors, as we shall see hereafter; but it never attracted much admiration until exhibited in the works of the celebrated Thomas Bewick, of Newcastle. By his talents, and those of his pupils, it has been gradually advancing in public estimation during the present century; but it has been only during a very recent period that, in point of quantity, and general adoption, it has at all recovered its former position, and that only in this country and France, not in Germany or Italy. It is stated in the volume before us, that,
"Within the first thirty years of the sixteenth century the practice of illustrating books with wood-cuts seems to have been more general than at any other period, scarcely excepting the present; for, though within the last eight or ten years an immense number of wood-cuts have been executed in England and France, yet wood-engravings at the time referred to were introduced into a greater variety of books, and the art was more
generally practised throughout Europe. In modern German and Dutch works, wood-engravings are sparingly introduced; and in works printed in Switzerland and Italy they are still more rarely to be found. In the former period the art seems to have been very generally practised throughout Europe; though to a greater extent, and with greater skill, in Germany than in any other country."
The Penny Magazine, and other popular works of that character, in which, with the aid of stereotyping and machine-printing, the works of the wood-engraver have been diffused in thousands and hundreds of thousands; and the more recent illustrated publications, as the Pictorial Bible, the Pictorial Shakspeare, the French editions of Gil Blas and Don Quixote, &c. &c. are the gigantic undertakings which have recalled the days of Albert Durer and Holbein, of the Dance of Death, and the Triumphs of Maximilian.
At such a time, a work like the present, at once practical and historical, is peculiarly interesting, particularly when it is known that those who have hitherto written on the subject, have in practical matters been ignorant, and in historical matters inaccurate. The materials of the present volume have been collected, and its profuse examples and decorations engraved, from a pure affection for his art, by Mr. Jackson, one of the ablest of its modern professors. For the literary composition of the work he has called in the aid of Mr. W. A. Chatto; and to that gentleman, we presume, we are to attribute the historical conjectures and opinions;
whilst Mr. Jackson, we presume, has supplied, throughout the work, the criticisms upon the several productions submitted to the reader's attention. Their assistance from former works published in this country, has been only incidental and occasional: two Frenchmen have written upon the subject, both about the middle of the last century, John Michael Papillon and P. S. Fournier.
The subject is introduced by an enumeration and description of the various ancient processes, which from their similarity to wood-engraving and to printing, seem almost to anticipate the latter important art, and to excite our wonder that the multiplication of books, through the agency of the press, was not brought into practice at an earlier æra. These are the uniform inscriptions inpressed upon the Babylonian bricks; the stamps on Roman lamps, tiles, and earthern vessels; the cauterium or brand; the principle of stencilling practised by the Romans; and the like manner of affixing royal signatures during the middle ages; the stamping of the monograms or marks of notaries and merchants, &c. &c. For these matters, as they may rather be said to resemble, than to have introduced the art of wood-engraving, we shall simply refer to the volume.
Mr. Chatto has discussed with the consideration and impartiality which became him, the extraordinary history related by Papillon in his "Traité de la Gravure en Bois," respecting the art of wood-engraving having been practised by a young knight and his twin sister, named Cunio, at Rome, about the year 1285; which story has been advocated by an Italian writer very appropriately named Zani (for the reason he gave was that it must needs be true, being told by a Frenchman, who had no national partiality in favour of the Italians), and also by the late Mr. Ottley, who was certainly over credulous on works of ancient art, and generally inclined to attribute them to too early a date. It is, however, treated with contempt by Heineken, Huber, and Bartsch, authors of excellent authority on the origin and progress of engraving; and, indeed, seems to have originated, together with the highly romantic personal history of the twin artists interwoven with it, from the insane invention of Papillon, who is known to have been sometimes out of his right mind.
It is vexatious to the sober and judicious inquirer to be tormented with the trouble of removing from his path such rubbish as this; yet he cannot entirely pass it by, when it has been not only noticed, but advocated by previous writers, who have attained to considerable celebrity and authority. In the present instance we thus encounter our own countrymen, Ottley and Singer; the latter of whom, in his "Researches on the History of Playing-Cards," (a subject, as we shall presently see, intimately connected with the origin of wood-engraving), was called on for his sentiments on this subject. It is stated, however, by Mr. Chatto :
"That Mr. Singer knows comparative ly nothing of the art of wood-engraving, of which he professes to give some account in his book, is evident whenever he speaks his own sentiments; whatever he has said worth notice on the early history of the art, is derived from Brietkopf,
from whose essays on Playing-Cards, on Wood Engraving, and on the invention of Printing, three fourths of Mr. Singer's Researches are borrowed without acknowledgment. The Appendix to the Researches, however, appears to be Mr. Singer's own." (p. 34.)
It seems probable that it was the great demand for playing-cards that first introduced the art of block-printing; so that we have some little debt of gratitude, even to that ugly fellow, the Knave of Clubs. Our
author supposes (p. 54) that the Germans were the first* who practised the art of card-making as a trade. Kartenmacher, or card-maker, is found as an appellation at Augsburg in 1418; and in 1433 occurs Margaret Kartenmalerin, or card-painter. These names, however, prove nothing for printing; and the latter rather opposes it.
ters; and though there evidently appears to have been a distinction between the two professions, yet we find that between 1470 and 1500 the Briefmalers not only engraved figures occasionally, but also printed books. The Formschneiders and the Briefmalers, however, continued to form but one guild or fellowship, till long after the art of wood-engraving had made rapid strides towards perfection, under the superintendence of such masters as Durer, Burgmair, and Holbein."
"In the town-books of Nuremberg, the term Formschneider,-figure-cutter, the name appropriated to engravers on wood, first occurs in 1449; and as it is found in subsequent years, mentioned in the same page with Kartenmaler, it seems reasonable to conclude that in 1449, and probably earlier, the business of the woodengraver proper, and that of the cardmaker, were distinct... About the time that the term Formschneider first occurs, we find Briefmalers mentioned, and at a later period Briefdruckers,-card-prinFrom Hans Sach's Book of Trades, first printed at Nurenberg in 1564, with cuts designed by Josh. Amman, we have representations of the Brief-maler and the Formschneider.
the large box in front, are the saucers which contain his colours.
"The Formschneider, or wood-engraver proper, is apparently at work on a block which he has before him, but the kind of tool which he employs is not exactly like those used by English wood-engravers of the present day. It seems to resemble a the Cunio, Mr. and his of course refer
the earliest wood-engravings to Italy; but Mr. Chatto states (p. 69) that "No wood-engravings executed in Italy are known of a date earlier than those contained in the Meditationes Johannis in Turre cremata, printed at Rome 1467, and printed, be it observed, by a German, Ulric Hahn."